The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists! Blu-ray Review

Title: The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!
Genre: Family, Comedy
Starring: Hugh Grant,
Martin Freeman,
David Tennant,
Certificate: US: PG
Picture: 1080p
Audio Format: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: English, Hindi
Runtime: 1 Hour 28 mins
Extras: Audio Commentary,
Making Of,
Blu-ray Exclusive Game.
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: USA: Aug 28 2012
UK: Sep 10 2012
See If You Like: Chicken Run,
Wallace and Gromit

Flying in the face of an almost entirely CG-dominated world, tweaking the nose of the dreadful spindly killer fish, and proving that there’s still a place in this world for brilliantly crafted, heartfelt, classic, stop-motion animation, The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists! (also known as The Pirates! Band of Misfits) happens to be one of the best family films released in years.

Coming from Aardman Animations (the studio who gave the world both Wallace and Gromit, and Chicken Run), The Pirates! is loosely based on Gideon Defoe’s book, and follows The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant, Notting Hill) as he takes his merry band of misfits on an adventure to become pirate of the year, and snatch the coveted award away from the more likely winners Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven, Entourage), and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek, Puss in Boots).

It’s not all plain sailing however, as The Pirate Captain’s luxurious beard apparently isn’t enough to compete with Liz and Bellamy’s endless booty, Queen Victoria (Imedla Staunton, Chicken Run) is determined to rid the world of pirates altogether, and not only does Charles Darwin (David Tennant, Fright Night) want to take his parrot (who turns out to be a dodo) to London, but his well-meaning crew are useless at best, and every ship he tries to loot turns out to be a duffer (apparently plague boats, ghost ships, and science expeditions don’t carry a lot of gold).

It’s amazing (given everything that’s crammed into the film) how quickly the hour-and-a-half runtime flies by, but what’s even more amazing is not only how well the pacing works, how excellently placed the impressive voice cast are (including the likes of Brendan Gleeson, Martin Freeman, Lenny Henry, and Brian Blessed), and how the jokes just keep on coming (and tread the fine-line between truly childish and adult-friendly family fun), but how the entire film looks simply fantastic.

Originally conceived as a CG film, going forward with clay-mation was definitely the right choice, as it not only looks funny, but helps to instantly endear anyone to the brilliantly stylised world conceived here; a fantastically crafted work of art that wouldn’t look the same in any other medium, is made all the funnier by the immense attention to detail, and little details included in the world (including placing a Blue Peter badge on one pirates hat, and filling the world with amusing street signs and memorabilia) that could only come from the love these model-makers and animators put into their creations, and still manages to be surprisingly innovative; by heavily implementing CG trickery to recreate the seas and the skies seen in the film, and making The Pirates! not only Aardman’s first stop-motion 3D release, but their first stop-motion movie to have been filmed in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

Being an Aardman movie you’re inevitably going to get a host of British based jokes (with Queen Victoria apparently defeating the Welsh, and riffing on Elizabeth’s infamous ‘weak and feeble woman’ line), but that’s not to say Pirates! isn’t easily accessible to an international audience; at its heart it’s a kids film, so the adventure as a whole nothing but a hugely fun romp across the high seas, and with jokes including inadvertently suggesting the theory of evolution to a rather confused Charles Darwin, asking Jane Austen to write a book where a shark fights Dracula, and cleverly playing on the classic Indiana Jones traveling map sequences, The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists is clearly a film that children and adults will love to enjoy together; it’s one of those brilliant movies that brings out the child in you, and one that’ll undoubtedly become a weekend TV staple for years to come.

It’s difficult to say if this film is as good, or better than, Chicken Run, or some of the better Wallace and Gromit outings; all the elements are here, it’s superbly crafted, has a brilliant cast, an excellent script, fantastic visuals, a soundtrack to die for (mixing pirate-y themes with notable modern tunes from the likes of The Clash), and even the signature chase (which is suitably impressive, but perhaps not as shockingly brilliant as the Wrong Trousers chase – though what could be?); but what can be said, definitely, is that you will not be disappointed when watching The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists; a thoroughly enjoyable, distinctly British, and succinctly brilliant film.


Just as good as the film itself is The Pirates! hugely impressive 1080p transfer; coming to Blu-ray with a dazzling amount of fine detail, wonderfully rich and inviting textures, and a true sense of depth (even in the 2D only release)created with the help of fantastic whites, deep and only blacks, ad faultless contrast that’s both bold, wonderful, effortlessly stable, and perfectly in keeping with the style and tone of the film.

Given the great sense of depth, and a number of shots clearly designed to make the most of the format, it’d egret to watch The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists in 3D (as originally intended), but given the well rendered textures, excellent detail, superb colours and depth, this is a brilliant Blu-ray, and a true reference quay transfer.


Similarly striking, though not quite as faultless, is the impressive and immersive 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track awarded to The Pirates! Blu-ray release; a well rounded, excellently balanced track which is not only well leveled and consistent throughout, but also creates a fair sense of depth all on its own, despite being mostly based in the front channels.

Yet while much of the action does take place at the front of the soundstage, that’s not to say the rear channels are silent; in fact they’re fairly active, and provide a good deal of ambient noise both in bolshy exteriors, boisterous interiors, and on the barren high-seas, creating a wonderful 360º feel that’s expanded upon even further when the dialogue (which is usually based at the front, but is always clear, intelligible, and perfectly placed) even spreads round to the rear channels when appropriate.

Pans are smooth, directionality is spot-on, transitions are effortless, and even the low-end performs fairly well when needed (providing that extra bass-boost when whales pop up, cannons explode, ships crash, or the amazing soundtrack pumps in with another rock song), and as a result, it’s once again difficult to find fault with The Pirates! Blu-ray. Not quite a reference quality track, but still a stunner and more than most family films would be awarded.


What does let The Pirates! Blu-ray release down however is the apparent lack of special features; sure we get an UltraViolet copy of the film (which almost anyone will tell you can be much more of a arse-ache than a standard, iTunes, digital copy), a fairly dry and uninteresting filmmakers commentary, an admittedly fascinating look at the processes behind creating the film (entitled From Stop to Motion), the decision to go against the CG-grain, and crafting the miniatures, and a shorter featurette focussing solely on crafting the film’s chase (Creating the Bath Chase), but aside from a rather naff “dress-up” game for the kids, there’s nothing else; it would have been great to see a couple more featurettes focussing on different aspects of the miniatures, Aardman’s studios, and possibly interviews or a closer look at the story process, as well as including the short films created to promote the film, but as it stands the bonus content on this disc is little better than average.

The Bottom Line:

In short, Aardman have done it again; always bar-setting and once again proving there’s a place for stop-motion animation in today’s high-flying, CG-dominated, world; The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists (or The Pirates! Band of Misfits, as both Americans and PS3’s like to call it) is the family film we’ve been waiting years to see; a wonderfully endearing, consistently funny, and inexplicably inviting romp across the high seas you’ll be glad to undertake.

With perfect picture quality, near-faultless audio, and a collection of extras that do the job (but could have been expanded a bit), Blu-ray is definitely the way to go for this release (with 3D looking to be a sound investment judging by the visuals and quality here), and as it’s so hard to find anything to dislike about this movie it can’t come highly recommended enough. Excellently written, superbly directly, and beautifully realised, The Pirates! is simply a fantastic family film for the ages; a true gem that will be remembered for years to come, and is easily on par with the likes of Chicken Run and The Wrong Trousers. Buy it now, and earn your children’s love forever.

Matt Wheeldon@TheMattWheeldon.

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Matt Wheeldon is the Founder, and Editor in Chief of Good Film Guide. He still refers to the cinema as "the pictures", and has what some would describe as a misguided appreciation for Waterworld.